David Moberg, 78, one of the nation’s most respected labor journalists for more than 40 years, died at his Hyde Park home in Chicago on Sunday, July 17, following a decade-plus battle with Parkinson’s disease. His death was announced by his wife of 41 years, Jo Patton, a retired public employee union official.
David had worked for the Chicago-based progressive publication In These Times from its inception in 1976 through 2016, covering the labor beat and a broad range of contemporary social and political issues. Most recently, he served as a senior editor at the magazine.
On the publication’s 40th anniversary, David wrote, “The major themes of the labor movement over the past four decades recur throughout our archives: not only the pursuit of union democracy but the arc of labor’s long decline, as it was slowly choked by corporate capitalism, and the strategies workers used to fight back.”
He published widely beyond In These Times, including in The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, Salon, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Chicago Reader, Chicago magazine, The New Republic, Dissent, L.A. Weekly, World Policy Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, Utne Reader, Mother Jones and others. He also contributed chapters and essays to numerous books.
Before joining In These Times, he completed work on a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Chicago. Born on Sept. 27, 1943 to a farm family in Galesburg, Illinois, he attended Carleton College where he did stints editing two literary magazines, worked briefly for Newsweek, then set off for extended travels through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
In 1968 he moved to Chicago for graduate school and shortly after formed a collective house on Blackstone Ave. in Hyde Park, where for over 50 years he hosted activists, journalists, artists, academics and organizers. He met Jo in 1974 and they married in 1981.
As a labor writer he was known to be a thorough reporter with a keen style that was strongly supportive of the labor movement, persuasive but intellectually honest and objective, critical where he found it necessary — qualities respected and appreciated by supporters and opponents alike. His longtime friend and colleague at In These Times, author John Judis, said he often tried to talk David into moving to New York and getting to be better known as a writer, but “stubborn” David wanted to stay in Chicago and cover labor.
Labor lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan said, “Like many others, I just trusted every word he wrote. He could have made a fortune as a big name journalist but he chose instead to enrich the rest of us.”
He was frequently honored for his work, winning the Studs Terkel Award from the Community Media Workshop and fellowships from the Nation Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
David also had taught sociology and anthropology at DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Loyola University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northeastern Illinois University.
He was an avid reader and could discourse wisely on a broad range of topics including current events, globalization, urban affairs, national politics and the environment, in addition to theater and literature. A friendly person and quietly effective speaker, he was known to maintain a calm demeanor and even tone during the most heated discussions.
His friends knew him as an excellent, restaurant-quality home cook and knowledgeable wine buff. Judis commented that David ” would scour butchers and vegetable stands for exactly the right ingredients for some obscure and amazing dish.”
In addition to his wife, David is survived by son Carl and his wife Myriam Fallon; daughter Sarah, her husband Gilad Shanan and granddaughter Talia Moberg Shanan. Also brothers Dale Moberg of Scottsdale, Ariz. and Lawrence of New York City.
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Don Rose is veteran Chicago journalist and an independent political consultant who specializes in progressive candidates.